The Waverly Inn was crawling with Condé Nast insiders earlier tonight, some of whom had been waiting as long as 20 years for the appetizer: The hot, delicious rumor that Si Newhouse was meeting in Paris with Carine Roitfeld to work out the final details of the French Vogue editor's move to New York, where she is expected to take over flagship Vogue from Anna Wintour immediately after New Year's. It did not go unnoticed when Condé Nast overlord Newhouse departed early for his annual three-week December vacation in Vienna; it turns out he needed time for his meeting with uptight Wintour's chic Parisian counterpart.

Corporate colleagues also arched their eyebrows when Wintour told a reporter at the National Magazine Awards to "Just go away" after she asked about rumors of the editor-in-chief's impending retirement. The touchy reply added to their suspicion that Wintour, who just this past June celebrated two decades atop Vogue, was worried about being pushed out by Newhouse before she'd lined up a soft landing elsewhere. Her purported $2-million-per-year salary is seen as a hindrance, given the state of the economy, in lining up a follow-on fashion gig of the sort that seems natural, post Vogue: creative director at LVMH, that sort of thing.

Whether the palace intrigue at the world's fashion bible unfolds according to the Waverly buzz or not, it is clear the Vogue masthead is not at equilibrium. Wintour in recent years positioned herself as a sort of mini-mogul over various baby Vogues. But this fall, she's fallen back down to earth. The closure of Men's Vogue was a major personal embarrassment. It followed a possibly fatal blow to the Vogue Living experiment and the cancellation of Fashion Rocks. Worst of all, it came amid slipping numbers at Vogue itself, as competitors leveraged reality television to undermine the title's dominance over the world of fashion.

The poor performance surely undermined Wintour within Condé Nast. But even if the legendary editor-from-hell still had Si Newhouse's full support, there's the issue of personal satisfaction: Wintour could hardly be expected to content herself with a downgrade from "editorial director" of a magazine collection to mere editor-in-chief of a single title, shrinking in ad pages and influence. Even if Wintour does not yet realize that, Newhouse surely does. Thus we see the unwelcome rumors of her retirement in the tabloids. And so it may be that a French revolution comes to Vogue in January 2009. (Photo by Jeremy Kost)

UPDATE: As many of you noted in the comments, the rumored replacement of Wintour by her French rival puts a tragic (for Wintour) twist on a plotline specific to the film adaptation of the novel The Devil Wears Prada. The real-life French Vogue editor has said Wintour is "like a puppet." In a clip from the movie below, Wintour stand-in Miranda Priestly manages to divert her competitor Jacqueline Follet by arranging for her a job once promised to Priestly's lieutenant at Runway (aka Vogue). Her own boss is dissuaded by threats that Priestly's fashion-industry allies will blackball the magazine. That sort of loyalty seems far too posh an extravagance at a time of economic panic and powerful TV shows like Project Runway.